Working with the Verizon #weneedmore campaign, Zendaya shares which Oscar-nominated film she felt “needed to be told"

By Kristen Caires
February 23, 2017 12:00 PM
Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Zendaya is praising the rise in diversity among this year’s crop of Oscar nominees.

“It’s really cool this year,” she told PEOPLE while speaking about her personal connection to the Verizon’s national #weneedmore campaign, which works to call attention to students who lack access to technology and exposure to careers in science and technology. “It’s nice to see people being recognized for their work.”

The actress, 20, was among a long list of celebrities who decried the 2016 Oscar race after non-white actors were shut out of the acting nominees’ list for the second year in a row, using #OscarsSoWhite to express their shock and outrage.

This year’s nominations saw a number of high-profile performances and films featuring actors of color recognized for top honors, including Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, Dev Patel, Octavia Spencer, Mahershala Ali and more.

“I think that is so important — and it’s beautiful to see,” Zendaya said. “There are so many young people that are watching, and it’s important to reflect them and represent them.”

While Zendaya didn’t reveal her Oscar favorite, she praised the subject matter depicted on screen this awards season. “There have been so many really important (movies), for example, Hidden Figures — that is a story that needed to be told.”

But the actress stressed the importance of fair representation and opportunities that go beyond acting. She said one of the reasons she became involved in the #weneedmore campaign was to help encourage kids to achieve their dreams.

“I watched what my mom did as a teacher in inner-city schools in Oakland, CA to show her students that education was the way to get beyond their circumstances,” she said. “So for me, this campaign is personal. #weneedmore is about more than giving kids access to hands-on learning in science and technology. It’s about leveling the playing field for all kids so that everyone has the opportunity to achieve their dreams.”